Advocating in Charleston and Washington, D.C.
WV Rivers is the only statewide organization focused on water policy and protecting public lands headwaters. In our state capital, this work involves intensive science and policy analysis, working to shape legislation and regulations, and collaborating on enforcement. In our nation’s capital it includes advocating sound water policy, ensuring federal funding for safe water programs and public lands in West Virginia, and defending our systems of public lands.
2022 Water Policy
The 2022 West Virginia legislative session began on January 12 and ran through March 12.
2022 Water Policy Priorities
Water Quality Standards Rule
Objective 1: Update human health protections in water pollution limits.
Objective 2: Defeat proposed industry loophole that would allow for weakened standards.
The WVDEP rules bundle, SB 279, was signed into law by the Governor in early February 2022. What does the rule mean for water quality? It makes a couple changes that WV Rivers opposes:
1. It allows for weakening human health criteria on a case-by-case basis, without legislative review.
2. It makes 5 human health criteria less stringent, allowing more of the following toxins in our water: DDT, benzo[k]fluoranthene, chrysene, methyl bromide, and gamma-Hexachlorocyclohexan.
However, there is important good news. Our research, analysis, and persistent advocacy over the last 5 years has been successful in making progress on adopting long overdue updates to WV’s human health criteria. This rule adopted 30 updates that we recommended be adopted to adequately protect the health of West Virginians. Though our work still isn’t done; there are still 35 more EPA-recommended updates that have not been addressed by WVDEP. We’ll be working on seeing these through, and will continue to need your voice in promoting safe water for all. Thanks for your involvement and support in making progress happen!
Preserve Protections in the Aboveground Storage Tank – We were successful in defending protections under the Act.
We support preserving protections for public drinking water supplies. Read our fact sheet.
Oil & Gas Oversight – remains a priority. The legislature did not take meaningful action to ensure oil and gas development has adequate regulatory oversite.
Establish adequate regulatory oversight and accountability. Read our fact sheet.
Coal Community Transition Support – remains a priority. We will continue to push the Legislature towards meaningful action to support coal communities and address climate change.
Objective 1: Engage with the Coal Communities Workgroup’s efforts to shape community-informed legislative action for transition support.
Objective 2: Promote policies that accelerate clean energy development.
Past Water Policy Priorities
2021 Legislative Session
2021 Water Policy
The 2021 West Virginia legislative session began on Wednesday, February 10 and ran through April 10. Read our recap of the session.
Water Quality Standards Rule
We opposed weakening water quality standards.
The DEP has proposed updates to 24 human health criteria within the state’s water quality standards (47CSR2). The proposed rule would make 13 of those criteria values less stringent that WV’s existing standards. Human health criteria help make sure our waters are safe to use for fishing and as drinking water supplies. Weakening standards for these carcinogens and toxins would increase risk to public health.
- View our fact sheet on the Rule.
- Review the timeline of proposed updates to Human Health Criteria.
- Read WV Rivers comments on the Rule.
- Read the public comments submitted to WVDEP on the Rule.
Preserve Protections in the Aboveground Storage Tank Act
We supported preserving protections for public drinking water supplies.
The Aboveground Storage Tank Act, enacted after a leaky chemical tank contaminated the drinking water of 300,000 West Virginians in 2014, provides standards and oversight to prevent releases from tanks into water supplies. Legislation has been introduced to exempt certain oil and gas tanks from the Act, even those in closest proximity to public drinking water intakes. View our fact sheet on the bill.
Fully Fund the Office of Oil & Gas
We supported an immediate fix to fully restore staffing to the DEP Office of Oil & Gas.
In 2020, DEP’s Office of Oil & Gas cut nearly 40% of its staff due to recurring budget shortfalls. With 65,000 wells in the state, now there is only one inspector per 5,000 gas wells. Currently, the Office is funded solely through one-time fees on new permit applications. This funding structure is inconsistent with other DEP Offices and is insufficient for sustaining the agency’s oversight responsibility for all activities related to the exploration, drilling, storage and production of oil and natural gas.
Promote Economic Diversification and Revitalization
- We supported measures that accelerate the development of energy efficiency programs and renewable energy in West Virginia.
- We supported legislation that facilitates a “Coal Community Comeback” through reinvestment programs in communities most impacted by the energy transition.
2020 Legislative Session
The 2020 West Virginia legislative session began on Wednesday, January 8 and ran until March 7.
Below is a brief summary of our 2020 Water Policy Priorities:
Clean Drinking Water Act: We support this Act, which addresses the risks posed by group of unregulated chemicals called polyfluoroalkyl substances, or “PFAS”. PFAS are man-made, persist in the environment, and are known to cause cancer and other adverse health effects. Learn more and watch a press conference on the Clean Drinking Water Act here.
Recommendations of the Public Water System Supply Study Commission: We support the implementation of recommendations of the WV Public Water System Supply Study Commission, which was formed in response to the 2014 WV Water Crisis.
Updated Penalties for Water Quality Violations: We’re seeing multi-billion dollar pipeline projects repeatedly violate their permits, resulting in harm to waterbodies across the state with relatively minimal monetary consequences. We support legislation that takes steps to deter polluters from breaking the law by updating penalty calculations to match federal EPA guidelines.
Protecting the State’s Waters from Coal Company Bankruptcies: As more coal companies declare bankruptcy, our rivers and streams impacted by mining are at great risk for being left without the clean-up they deserve. We support legislation that holds coal companies accountable for their environmental degradation and ensures they pay for related clean-ups.
We also support legislation to establish the Office of Just Transition, which would help communities most impacted by the declining coal industry; and the Environmental Rights Amendment, which would secure West Virginian’s rights to clean water, pure air, and a healthy environment.
2019 Legislative Session
The 2019 West Virginia legislative session began on January 9 and ended on March 9. Throughout the session, your voice and actions will made the difference for the health of our water, environment, and state.
Water Quality Standards – SB 163
We support the adoption of all EPA-recommended human health criteria to West Virginia’s water quality standards. Every three years West Virginia’s water quality standards undergo a revision called the Triennial Review. It is supposed to be a straight forward and transparent process, involving public input every step of the way. But this year a last minute amendment pushed by industrial polluters bypassed the public comment process and made its way into the rule legislators will vote on. Learn more here.
The amendment removes updates to the portion of our water quality standards that set limits on the toxins most harmful to human health. These limits, known as human health criteria, are currently based science conducted prior to 1985. In 2015, EPA recommended that West Virginia update its human health criteria to reflect better, more recent science. WVDEP proposed some of these updates in their rule, but legislative committee removed them at the request of the WV Manufacturers Association. View our fact sheet on the amendment and how it puts our health at risk here.
The WVDEP rules bundle which includes water quality standards, passed the House of Delegates without updates to human health protections in our water quality standards. Read more here, here, and here.
Delegate Evan Hansen along with 10 co-sponsors proposed an amendment to restore the updated protections. During debate over the amendment, Delegate Barbara Fleischauer referenced the overwhelming support of citizens to update our water quality standards, asking “is anyone listening to the people of West Virginia?” Ultimately, the amendment was voted down. See how your delegates voted here.
Prior to the floor vote three delegates, Delegates Evan Hansen, Mike Pushkin, and Larry Rowe made impassioned appeals for updated protections. Delegate Hansen in his speech urged house members to support Concurrent Resolution 39, which would create a bipartisan Joint Select Committee to further study water quality standards.
Although SB 163 has passed the West Virginia Legislature without updated human health protections, thanks to you this bill received a lot of attention.
The bill includes a timeline for further public input and a new proposal for revisions between now and April 2020. We’ll be involved every step of the way, making sure the information considered is factual, balanced, and science-based – and that the public interests, not just industry interests, are represented.
Tracking Water Policy
Throughout the 2019 session we focused our efforts on bills with water quality implications. Below you’ll find the status of each bill we tracked and brief analysis on those that were adopted by the Legislature.
HB2612 – Proposing rules related to the completion or updating of source water protection plans. We hope the staggered schedule of submission of updates of these plans will help facilitate more public input, meaningful review by agencies, and result in stronger plans.
SB163 – Authorizing DEP promulgate legislative rules, including the water quality standards rule. Requires DEP to continue a public input process through October 2019, and submit proposed revisions to water quality standards by April 2020 for public comment.
SB675 – Requiring DEP create and implement Adopt-A-Stream Program. Creates an Adopt-A-Stream program similar to Adopt-A-Highway, but without dedicated funding.
SB404 – Relating generally to sediment control during commercial timber harvesting operations, including increasing the threshold for the exemption for logger licensing requirements, and updating training requirements.
SB676 – Relating to off-road vehicle recreation. Provisions that would have allowed off-roading on trails in public lands were removed.
SB534 – Collecting additional information for cancer and tumor registry.
HB2334 – Establishing an industrial water extraction fee.
HB2337 – Assessing the health impact of any new, or modification to, rule proposed by the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
HB2073 – Implementing the recommendations of the studies required by the Natural Gas and Horizontal Well Control Act.
SB665 – Allowing for expedited oil and gas permitting.
SCR39 – Requesting creation of Joint Select Committee on Requirements Governing Water Quality Standards
Did not pass.
HJR25 – Natural Resources and the Public Estate Amendment – Right to a clean environment
Did not pass.
HR11 – Recognizing the importance of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline
Passed the House on 3/7. See WV Rivers message to legislators regarding this resolution here.
2019 Legislative Session Policy News Archive
2018 Legislative Session
2018 Water Policy
The 2018 legislative session closed on Saturday, March 10. Below you’ll find an update on each of the bills we worked on over the session.
We killed a number of bills that were harmful to water quality and were able to secure improvements to others. You can watch executive director, Angie Rosser, on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s The Legislature Today discuss some of the bills we prioritized this session here.
Tracking water policy:
SB270: The state parks logging bill. After five weeks of intensive grassroots organizing, our efforts culminated in over 18,000 messages being sent to the governor and legislators opposing the bill, and SB270 died in committee. Read about the monumental victory here.
SB410: This bill would have established a new position, the Industry Advocate, within the WV Department of Environmental Protection. It died in committee.
HB2909: This bill would have abolished the office of the environmental advocate within WVDEP. It died in committee.
SB438: This is a good bill that would authorize the issuance of bonds to fund improvements at state parks. It has been signed into law.
SB626: This bill is generally related to coal mining. In its original form it weakened the public notice process for surface mine permits and deleted a large section of the Water Pollution Control Act. Based on WV Rivers recommendations, the House amended SB626 restoring public notice by publication. Water quality certifications and mitigation requirements for surface mines will be governed by rule. It pass both chambers of the legislature. Read more about our SB626 concerns here.
SB290: This bill makes changes to water quality standards and pollution limits. The original bill was replaced by an improved substitute thanks to WV Rivers efforts. It has been passed by the full legislature. The hard work on this bill is still ahead of us. In the coming months, SB290 will undergo rule-making. Stay tuned, we’re going to need your help! See our analysis on SB290 in a previous edition of Policy News here.
HB4154: The “2018 Regulatory Reform Act” expedites the approval of certain industrial projects in a way that leaves the public out of the process. It passed out of the House but die in the Senate Government Organization Committee.
2018 editions of Water Policy News
2017 Legislative Session
2017 West Virginia Water Policy
HB 2506 – Changing design flow and allowing for overlapping mixing zones. We opposed HB 2506 that would allow more toxins and cancer-causing chemicals into our drinking water supplies. HB2506 Fact Sheet.
Revisions to Water Quality Standards. We support protective water quality standards that protect our right to use and enjoy clean water. SB687 Fact Sheet.
Aluminum and Selenium
The WV Legislature approved revisions to water quality standards that would allow more toxic Aluminum and Selenium pollution in our rivers and streams. Before the revisions go into effect, they must be approved by the EPA. The Selenium revision was approved by EPA in June 2016. Approval or disapproval by EPA of the Aluminum revision is still pending.The EPA’s concerns about these changes are reflected in their February 23, 2016 letter to WVDEP available EPA Comments on WV Se and Al 2-23-16.
Triennial Review of State Water Quality Standards
We participated in regular meetings of the WVDEP Water Quality Standards Program and commenting on their triennial review of the state standards. Five revisions were being proposed – a summary can be found here – however WVDEP withdrew the rule before it would go to the 2017 legislative approval process.
Aboveground Storage Tank Act
We support oversight of aboveground storage tanks to adequately protect water resources. In 2017, HB 2811 exempts 2,300 oil and gas tanks from the Aboveground Storage Tank Act, yet maintains their requirements to register, label and provide notice to public water systems. In 2016, the Legislature passed the Aboveground Storage Tank Act rule:
Proposed Rules Governing Horizontal Well Development
We support strong regulation of “fracking” and its waste to adequately protect water resources. In 2016, we opposed a dangerous bill that would change permitting processes, SB 565, did not pass. We also monitored SB 601 that dealt with regulation of drilling waste landfills. We are participating in major proposed pipeline projects to minimize impacts to water quality and quantity.
Federal Water Policy
Federal Water Policy
EPA/Army Corps of Engineers Clean Water Rule
We support the clarification of headwater streams and wetlands are under the jurisdiction of the federal Clean Water Act.
OSMRE Stream Protection Rule
We support stronger protections of streams threatened by mining impacts.
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